LENOX — If the multi-talented show biz star Seth MacFarlane didn't have multitudinous TV and big-screen projects going, he could be carving out a top-flight, full-time career as keeper of the torch for the Great American Songbook, notably the pop standards and Broadway classics championed by the incomparable Frank Sinatra over a 60-year career.
During an hour-long, 13-song set with the Boston Pops conducted by Keith Lockhart at Tanglewood on Sunday afternoon and his own three-member band, MacFarlane delivered a smart, suave, well-paced, polished mix of favorites by Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kern and many more — even Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" as an encore.
Vocally and stylistically, any resemblance to mid-career Sinatra was more than coincidental.
Wisely, MacFarlane stopped short of outright imitation, but his ability to capture the essence of his musical idol's mastery of the jazz-pop sound of the '30s to '50s was uncanny. Use of the lush, masterly arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins and Billy May favored by Sinatra, performed by the Pops with punch and panache, helped immeasurably to create an aura of authenticity.
Inevitably, Sinatra's world-weary, bittersweet sentimentality and macho swagger was missing, but no singer, not even Michael Feinstein, has plumbed those depths of emotion-laden resignation and heights of swinging bravado.
True to form, MacFarlane aimed for good-natured wit during his between-numbers patter, and scored a few well-placed two-liners mixed with forthright admiration for the Pops as an equal partner.
Evidently informed that the show would be reviewed, MacFarlane joked that he couldn't understand the point of critiquing a one-time endeavor.
"What are they going to say, go see it yesterday?" he pointed out. "Reviewer, if you're out there, you can't hurt me."
No worries, Seth, wouldn't dream of it.
He also opined that "Massachusetts, you have more than enough Dunkin' Donuts! There's one backstage."
During his intro to a mellifluous rendition of Vernon Duke's 1934 picturesque, heartfelt "Autumn in New York," he described the beauty of the fall in the city, as the leaves turn "and Donald Trump's hair turns even brighter orange." Cue the hearty laughter from the blue-state audience.
Beyond the surefire classics such as "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin,'" "Ol' Man River" and "I Have Dreamed," MacFarlane also unearthed some rarities, notably the 1937 "Gone With the Wind," unrelated to the book and the film, by the now nearly-forgotten songwriting team of lyricist Herb Magidson and composer Allie Wrubel.
The soliloquy, "When You Become a Man," composed by Don Black and Vic Lewis for Matt Monro, the "British Sinatra," in 1967, tugged at the heartstrings, especially as orchestrated by Nelson Riddle. Other welcome, less often-heard standards included "Too Marvelous for Words," a Johnny Mercer-Richard Whiting collaboration, and "It Worries Me," Sinatra's premonition of about-to-be lost love.
Lockhart lives and breathes this repertoire, of course and this return engagement following MacFarlane's May 6 Pops spring season opening night in Boston's Symphony Hall proved to be as successful as the advance word-of-mouth indicated.
For the first portion of the matinee, Lockhart offered generous slices of Pops bread-and-butter repertoire — Bernstein's "Candide" Overture, Copland's "Hoedown" from "Rodeo," a Gershwin medley by the orchestra's top arranger Don Sebesky, Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing " and even the ever-familiar Largo from Dvorak's "New World" Symphony with a haunting solo by the BSO/Pops English horn principal Robert Sheena.
In return for a donation to the orchestra by Ed Keon, his wife Pat Kennelly was gifted to be the enthusiastic "guest conductor" for the standard Pops closer, "The Stars and Stripes Forever." We should all be so fortunate.
Despite MacFarlane's "hear today, gone tomorrow" admonition, this Pops outing, a benefit for the BSO's pension fund, is worth a salute as an example of the programming the orchestra does best, with a celebrity guest star who lived up to his billing as a worthy disciple of the Sinatra & Co. tradition from a glorious era of American popular music that has yet to be equaled, and likely never will be.
Contact Clarence Fanto at firstname.lastname@example.org